Chlamydia at a Glance
- A common sexually transmitted disease (STD)
- Often has no symptoms
- Easily treated
- Easily spread with or without symptoms.
- Condoms offer good protection
We all want to protect ourselves and each other from infections like chlamydia. Learning more about chlamydia is an important first step.
Here are some of the most common questions we hear people ask about chlamydia. We hope you find the answers helpful, whether you think you may have chlamydia, have been diagnosed with it, or are just curious about it.
What Is Chlamydia?
You may have heard of chlamydia, but many people are not sure what it is. Chlamydia (klah MIH dee ah) is an infection caused by a kind of bacteria that is passed during sexual contact. It is the most common sexually transmitted bacterial infection in the United States. About three million American women and men become infected with chlamydia every year. It is especially common among women and men under 25.
What Are the Symptoms of Chlamydia?
Usually, chlamydia has no symptoms. Most people are not aware that they have the infection — especially women.
- Three out of four women with chlamydia have no chlamydia symptoms.
- Half of men with chlamydia have no chlamydia symptoms.
If you do get chlamydia symptoms, they may begin in as little as 5 to 10 days after you got the infection.
When women have chlamydia symptoms, they may experience
- abdominal pain
- abnormal vaginal discharge
- bleeding between menstrual periods
- low-grade fever
- painful intercourse
- pain or a burning feeling while urinating
- swelling inside the vagina or around the anus
- the urge to urinate more than usual
- vaginal bleeding after intercourse
- a yellowish discharge from the cervix that may have a strong smell
When men have symptoms, they may experience
- pain or a burning feeling while urinating
- pus or watery or milky discharge from the penis
- swollen or tender testicles
- swelling around the anus
In both women and men, chlamydia may cause the anus to itch and bleed. It can also result in a discharge and diarrhea. If chlamydia infects the eyes, it may cause redness, itching, and a discharge. If chlamydia infects the throat, it may cause soreness.
Chlamydia symptoms may only appear in the morning and may be mild, especially for men. That's why many people do not realize they have an infection. If you or your partner has any of the symptoms listed above, get checked by a health care provider. This is especially important if you are pregnant.
Complications of Chlamydia
Because chlamydia has few or no symptoms, it can sometimes go untreated for a long time. If chlamydia is not treated, it can become a serious threat to your health. Chlamydia may cause PID — pelvic inflammatory disease — in up to 1 out of 5 women who do not get treatment. If PID is not treated, it may affect a woman's ability to get pregnant. Testing and treatment for chlamydia significantly reduces the risk for PID.
In men, if chlamydia is not treated, it can result in a condition called epididymitis. If epididymitis is not treated, it can lead to sterility. Rarely, it leads to a condition called reactive arthritis. Reactive arthritis causes a variety of conditions, including swelling and pain in the joints that can be disabling.
To prevent these kinds of complications, it is important to get tested any time you notice chlamydia symptoms or when you think you may have been exposed to chlamydia.
How Can I Know If I Have Chlamydia?
A health care provider can do tests to see if you have chlamydia, whether or not you have chlamydia symptoms. Your health care provider may be able to see chlamydia symptoms, such as a discharge from the cervix. Otherwise, the provider may use a swab or other instrument to take cell samples from the penis, cervix, urethra, or anus. You can also have your urine tested.
Is There a Treatment for Chlamydia?
Yes. Chlamydia is easy to treat. If you have chlamydia, you will need to take antibiotics. One type of chlamydia treatment is taken in one dose. Other kinds of chlamydia treatment must be taken for seven days. Your health care provider can help you decide which is the best treatment for you.
Both you and your partner must be treated for chlamydia before you have sex again. That way you can avoid becoming infected again. Some health care providers will give you antibiotics to take home to your partner. They may tell you to be re-tested for chlamydia in 3 to 4 months.
If you are treated for chlamydia, or any other sexually transmitted disease or infection, remember
- Take all of the prescribed medicine. Even if the symptoms go away, the infection may still be in your body until the chlamydia treatment is complete.
- Make sure your partner(s) is/are treated before having sex again so you don't infect each other.
- Do not share your medicine with anyone.
- Get tested again after three months to make sure the infection is gone.
Where Can I Get a Test or Treatment for Chlamydia?
Your local Planned Parenthood health center, many other clinics, private health care providers, and health departments offer tests for chlamydia and chlamydia treatment.
How Is Chlamydia Spread?
Chlamydia is spread by vaginal and anal intercourse. Rarely, it is spread during oral sex or by touching your eye with your hand. It can also spread from a woman to her fetus during birth. Chlamydia is not passed through casual contact.
How Can I Prevent Getting Chlamydia?
There is a lot you can do to prevent getting chlamydia.
How Can I Prevent Spreading Chlamydia?
If you have chlamydia, there are several ways to prevent spreading it to other people.
- Inform your sex partners of the infection.
- Don't have sex until treatment is complete.
- Be sure your sex partners are tested and treated before having sex again.
- Once you are cured and start having sex again, use female or latex condoms every time you have vaginal or anal intercourse.
Find Dr. Cullins' Answers to Common Sexual Health Questions
Q&A with Dr. Cullins